On 2nd March 1969—nearly 51 years ago, the Anglo-French Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde took its first flight from Toulouse in France, captained by Andre Turcat.
No other commercial aircraft–before or since–flew as fast, flew as high, with so much panache, was so expensive, so complicated, was so beautiful, had so much glamour and was so noisy as the incomparable Concorde.
Here’s some facts and figures…
- A cruising speed of Mach 2.02, or 2 154 km/h, with a maximum of Mach 2.23 (2 370 km/h)
- The top speed was limited by aerodynamic heating of the material used in construction, an aluminium alloy.
- A maximum cruising altitude of 60 000 ft, with a practical ceiling of 68 000 ft.
- Passenger capacity of up to 128
- The only passenger aircraft whose engines had afterburners (or ‘reheat’)
- London to New York in half the time of conventional passenger aircraft, with famously the record of 2 hours and 52 minutes.
Design & Development
Interest in supersonic commercial transport began in the early 1950s in the UK. At that time it was understood that the best wing design would be a very short span, very thin wings like the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter (an aircraft plagued by accidents) or like those on missiles—but this would result in very little lift and extremely high landing and take-off speeds. The idea of a Supersonic Transport (SST) was shelved but research continued in supersonic aerodynamics.
Shortly afterwards, the research showed that a short-span, delta wing could provide much more lift at high angles of attack but keep the advantages of low drag. Suddenly the SST idea was feasible. These high angles of attack required resulted in the unique nose of the Concorde, able to drop by 13° for improved visibility on take-off and landing.
In 1959, the British companies Hawker Siddeley and Bristol began studies. The final wing design was the characteristic ‘ogival’ wing, based on a twin curve. (see the main image) In 1960, the new British Aircraft Corporation approached Boeing, General Dynamics, and Douglas of the US and with Sud Aviation of France. The French were working on a parallel project and had much in common with the British. The American companies were less enthusiastic, believing that the US government would sponsor their own programme. Finally, the SST project with France was negotiated as an international treaty—the British at the time trying to enter the European Common Market- (now the European Union) rather than a commercial agreement.
The engine choice was less difficult despite the immense power needed. Two versions of the aircraft were considered, the British looking for a design capable of carrying 150 passengers across the Atlantic and the French a shorter range. The similarities in design were relatively small, and it was decided the Olympus 593 turbojet engine, producing 37 000 pounds of thrust or 157 kN each was suitable, the engines available having been originally designed for the Avro Vulcan strategic bomber aircraft.
Part two tomorrow…